We notice it most clearly in brainstorming, but it can happen in any meeting. Some people dominate the conversation (I'll call them Outspoken), while others seem unable to get a chance to speak (I'll call them Softspoken). When the Softspoken do get a chance to speak, an Outspoken often interrupts, preventing the Softspoken from finishing a thought. Eventually, the Softspoken give up trying, if they don't actually leave the room. Or, in virtual meetings, they sign off or begin indulging in their favorite digital pastimes.
Understanding the experiences of all involved helps us allocate airtime more fairly. Let's begin by exploring the inner experience of the Outspoken.
- Excited, capable, and articulate
- Some of the Outspoken are excited and passionate about the discussion. If they're also knowledgeable and articulate, they might feel an overwhelming desire to contribute. They're so fully involved that they're unaware that they're taking more than their fair share of the airtime.
- Seeking attention
- To gain attention, some of the Outspoken exploit their advantages. Motivations differ. Some want to make a case for a particular mission that they hope the group will adopt. Some hope to enhance their own political stature, possibly to gain promotion or influence. Others seek to dominate solely for the thrill of domination.
- Believing no one has anything to say
- When a pause in the conversation occurs, or even before a pause develops, the Outspoken are more likely to believe that no one has anything to say. They conclude that it's permissible to contribute whatever might be in their minds.
- Rude or careless of the rights of others
- Some of the Outspoken recognize that their own behavior is rude, but they're either careless of the rights of others, or they feel that the discussion is so important and urgent that civility and politeness must be temporarily suspended.
- Strategically assertive
- Someone When someone repeatedly dominates
meetings, understanding the
experiences of all involved helps
us allocate airtime more fairlywho wants to limit opportunities for others to express points of view contrary to their own might steer the conversation in what they regard as a safe direction. They speak at length, and interrupt anyone who might express a contrary view. What might seem to be simple rudeness can actually be strategic.
- Politically powerful
- When the Outspoken are politically powerful, some consider them to be demonstrating their power. They don't actually have a point to make, other than that they're in charge. Perhaps. Also possible: the Outspoken feel threatened, weak, and small, and they dominate the meeting to validate their own images of themselves.
- Composite Outspoken
- The Outspoken might be two or three (or more) individuals, allied with a single purpose. They might plan in advance to express their point of view in a way that deprives others of airtime. But because the Outspoken are multiple people, they don't seem to be dominating the meeting.
Do you spend your days scurrying from meeting to meeting? Do you ever wonder if all these meetings are really necessary? (They aren't) Or whether there isn't some better way to get this work done? (There is) Read 101 Tips for Effective Meetings to learn how to make meetings much more productive and less stressful — and a lot more rare. Order Now!
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More articles on Effective Meetings:
- Think Before You PowerPoint
- Microsoft PowerPoint is a useful tool. Many of us use it daily to create presentations that guide meetings
or focus discussions. Like all tools, it can be abused — it can be a substitute for constructive
dialog, and even for thought. What can we do about PowerPoint abuse?
- Using the Parking Lot
- In meetings, keeping a list we call the "parking lot" is a fairly standard practice. As the
discussion unfolds, we "park" there any items that arise that aren't on the agenda, but which
we believe could be important someday soon. Here are some tips for making your parking lot process more
- Is the Question "How?" or "Whether?"
- In group decision making, tension sometimes develops between those who favor commitment to the opportunity
at hand, and those who repeatedly ask, "If we do that, how will we do it?" Why does this happen?
- The Opposite of Influence
- The question of why some people are so influential has a partner question: why are others largely ignored,
or opposed, even when their contributions are valuable?
- Polychronic Meetings
- In very dynamic contexts, with multiple issues to address, we probably cannot rely on the usual format
of single-threaded meeting with a list of agenda items to be addressed each in their turn. A more flexible,
issue-driven format might work better.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming October 5: Downscoping Under Pressure: I
- When projects overrun their budgets and/or schedules, we sometimes "downscope" to save time and money. The tactic can succeed — and fail. Three common anti-patterns involve politics, the sunk cost effect, and cognitive biases that distort estimates. Available here and by RSS on October 5.
- And on October 12: Downscoping Under Pressure: II
- We sometimes "downscope" projects to bring them back on budget and schedule when they're headed for overruns. Downscoping doesn't always work. Cognitive biases like the sunk cost effect and confirmation bias can distort decisions about how to downscope. Available here and by RSS on October 12.
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